Saturday, August 31, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: The Crooked Angel

 The Crooked Angel
Blix and Cromwell drink some breakfast and talk to cryptic Molly

   I walked into the Crooked Angel Saloon on a painfully bright Sunday morning in March. The atmosphere inside was the very essence of a Florida beach bar at ten in the morning: the fragrant smell of stale spilled beer , stale cigarette smoke and stale foiled dreams. Molly was behind the bar, rinsing glasses and running water and doing all the things a bar owner does on a Sunday morning before opening time. I walked past her toward the back, headed for the Men's room. As I walked past I didn't say anything, just raised my hand in the international sign of “I'm hungover” and kept moving. Molly smiled her beautiful Sunday morning smile and reached for her second-best brand of Vodka. The saloon was empty. It would not open until noon, but at noon I would be rigging my catamaran on the beach and I wanted a Bloody Mary now. I went into the Men's room and over to the urinal. Someone was in the toilet stall.

     “Someday I'm going to start a Sunday without having to smell that,” I said.

     “Smell what?” came a voice from the stall. “The lovely smell of roses?”

     “Yeah, the lovely smell of roses. I didn't see your drink on the bar. You going straight on me?”  The sound of ice tinkling in a glass came from inside the stall.

     “Jesus,” I said. “You got a TV and newspaper in there too? At least wash your hands when you're through.”

     “Yes, mother,” Cromwell said. I zipped up, washed my hands and went back into the bar and sat on the stool in front of the tall drink Molly had made for me. A medicinal Bloody Mary, two parts Absolut vodka with four parts Crooked Angel house mix, four dashes of tabasco, two big olives and a celery stick. I took a sip.

     “Yow! Good stuff! Thank you, me darlin'.”

     “You're welcome, me darlin'. Is Cromwell awake in there?”

     “As awake as he ever gets. By the way, isn't there some health regulation concerning food consumption in public toilet stalls?” She was leaning over the rinse sink, giving me a wonderful view of her perfect Florida bar-maid chest. Molly had bought the Angel with savings from her earlier career as a dancer. While some of her co-workers were investing in drug abuse and bad boyfriends, Molly had bought Walmart stock. She straightened up, stretched deliciously and gave me a green eyed wink.

     “No doubt. Everything is against the law in Florida. Including serving drinks before opening time.”

     “This isn't drinks,” I said. “It's breakfast.” Cromwell came in from the back, shaking his empty glass, rattling the ice to show Molly it was empty.

     “More breakfast, please, miss,” he said. Cromwell is the tall, dark and handsome type, and knows it.   Molly took his glass. He sat down on a stool and turned to me. “Now then, Blix, what is on the schedule for today?”

     “Let's see,” I said, holding up a blank white cocktail napkin, “Ah yes, first will be drinking, followed by sailing, then more drinking, then, later: sailing and drinking.”

     “Hmm, a busy day,” Cromwell said. “Will we have time for lunch?”

     “I think so. Yes, in fact, it says here that we're scheduled for lunch with cocktails at the Yacht Club. We'll be dining with the Commodore.”

     Molly laughed. “Yeah, right. Like they're going to let you two kooks anywhere near the Yacht Club, after that thing with the seagulls.” She set Cromwell's fresh drink in front of him.

     “Did I say Yacht Club? Oh, I see, must be a typo, actually we will be dining alfresco on the beach, enjoying delicious cold sandwiches prepared by chef Molly of the renowned Crooked Angel Culinary Academy.” I put the napkin back on the bar. Cromwell picked it up and held it at arms length, as though studying it in detail. Molly took it away and threw it into the trash can behind the bar.

     “Okay”, she said. “Two club sandwiches and two drinks to go then you two bastards have got to get out of here. I've got real customers coming in and I want to be ready.” She went into the kitchen to put together our lunch, giving her tail a shake for old time's sake. We watched her leave, then looked at each other. Molly makes really good sandwiches. We both lifted our drinks, taking measured sips so that when the glasses were back on the bar there would be equal amounts remaining. We knew exactly how long to make the drinks last so that Molly would have time to fix the club sandwiches, get them wrapped up and return to fix two extra strength Bloody Marys in red plastic cups. It was part of our Sunday morning pre-sail ritual. We were following well-established steps that would soon result in our being out on the ocean on board my eighteen foot catamaran. Some days it would be on Cromwell's boat, but today it would be on mine. The ritual had evolved naturally, the end result of our need to get through the morning and out on the ocean with as little effort as possible. Sunday mornings in Ruby Beach are not a good time for excess effort or confusion. Cromwell spoke.

     “Who is this Al guy?” he asked.


     “You said we were going to be dining with Al Fresco at lunch.” Inane conversation was part of the ritual, a way to get the vocal chords warmed up, set the tone for the day.

     “Oh, Al,” I said. “Right. You are going to like this guy, Crom, a very interesting character. His full name is Alain de Cordoba Fresco. He once served as court jester to the King of Spain, in the late Fifties, but after the revolution he came to the U.S. where he had a very popular children's TV show at a local station in Kalamazoo, or maybe it was Kokomo. He apparently made so much money there that he was able to retire here to Ruby, where he spends his Sunday afternoons on the beach, eating lunch with strange men.”

     “Sounds like a good guy. But what if we 're not strange enough for his taste?”

     “Oh, don't worry,” said Molly, coming in from the kitchen. “Cromwell and Dixon are strange enough for anyone's taste. You two make the Cat in the Hat look normal.” She set the wrapped club sandwiches on the bar. They had a very satisfying heft about them, as would the two drinks to go. It was all part of the ritual.

     “Indeed, me darlin', indeed. But then, what is normal, anyway?” I put a ten dollar bill on the bar.

     “More,” Molly said. I looked at Cromwell. He looked at Molly. Molly rolled her eyes.
“I know,” she said, taking the bill from the bar top. “On the tab.” She threw the ten into the tip jar. We each took our wrapped sandwiches and our drinks and turned towards the back door of the Crooked Angel.

     “By the way,” I asked as we were walking out, “How much is the tab these days, anyway?”

     “You don't want to know,” said Molly, leaning on the bar and giving us both a very direct look and an ironic little smile. “You really don't want to know.” Cromwell pushed the rear door to the saloon open with his foot and we stepped out into the painful sunshine. The door closed behind us.

     “What did that mean?” he asked.

     “We really don't want to know,” I said.